18 April 2019
Ling Jihua, who directed the leadership's nerve center under Hu Jintao, was seen as a candidate for promotion to the politburo. Photo: Reuters
Ling Jihua, who directed the leadership's nerve center under Hu Jintao, was seen as a candidate for promotion to the politburo. Photo: Reuters

Former Hu top aide falls in graft crackdown

Chinese authorities are investigating a top aide to former president Hu Jintao for alleged corruption.

State news agency Xinhua said Ling Jihua is being investigated for “suspected serious discipline violations”, the standard language for allegations of corruption and abuses of power, but gave no further details.

Ling, 58, was a trusted aide to Hu, comparable to a White House chief of staff, and had been widely considered a candidate for promotion to the politburo, according to the New York Times.

Steve Tsang, who studies Chinese politics at the China Policy Institute in the University of Nottingham in England, said the investigation shows Xi is confident enough to expand his anti-corruption campaign.

“What it points to is that Xi will sustain the anticorruption campaign and use it to strengthen his own position in the party and to make the party a more effective instrument of control, and for him to exercise that control,” Tsang said in an e-mail to the Times.

The investigation follows a car crash two years ago that killed Ling’s 23-year-old son, Ling Gu, and critically injured two young women riding in the Ferrari he was driving on a Beijing ring road.

One of the women died a month later and party insiders said the families of both women were later paid enormous sums to keep quiet.

According to party officials, Ling went to great lengths to cover up the death of his son, a graduate student at Peking University, and he continued to work as if nothing had happened.

The scandal unfolded amid a once-in-a decade leadership transition and is thought to have contributed to a decision by Hu to relinquish his position as secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the Chinese military, posts that his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, had retained into retirement.

Under Hu, Ling directed the leadership’s nerve center, the General Office of the party’s Central Committee, but he was relegated to a less influential post ahead of schedule.

He later failed to advance to the politburo and lost his seat on the influential party secretariat.

Just last week, he published an essay lauding Xi’s policies toward ethnic minorities in Qiushi (Seeking Truth), the party’s premier journal.

Ling said he was sure that “under the staunch leadership of the party center with Comrade Xi Jinping as general secretary,” China’s Tibetans, Uighurs and other ethnic minorities would have a bright future.

But before Monday, his brothers had been placed under investigation for graft and Ling’s own prospects appeared grim.

In June, party investigators announced an inquiry into the activities of an older brother, Ling Zhengce, who was the deputy head of a government advisory body in the coal-rich northern province of Shanxi.

Xi and Wang Qishan, his political ally in charge of the party’s anti-corruption agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, have often said their drive against graft would catch both “tigers and flies”, both senior and junior officials.

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